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An Introduction To Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is the study of the behaviour of heat and thermal energy. Energy is the ability to bring about change or to do work. Historically, thermodynamics originated as a result of man’s endeavour to convert heat into work. In its simplest form, where P equals power, mgH equals work and t equals time, we have the following equation:

P = mgH/t

A thermodynamic system is one that interacts and exchanges energy with the area around it. If a thermodynamic system is in equilibrium, it can’t change its state or status without interacting with its environment.

Around 1850 Rudolf Clausius and William Thomson stated both the First and the Second Laws of Thermodynamics. Generally discussed prior to the First and Second Laws however, is the Zeroth Law. Although stated after the First and Second Laws, its importance dictates its position at the top spot of the list of the Laws.

The Four Laws of Thermodynamics

The Zeroth Law

This states that if two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.

More simply put, if systems one and two are each in equilibrium with system three, they, therefore, each have the same energy content as system three. If that is the case, then the values found in system three must match those in both systems one and two. Therefore, the values of one and two must also match, meaning that one and two have to be in equilibrium with each other.

The First Law

The first law is a little simpler. It states that when heat is added to a system, some of that energy stays in the system and some leaves the system. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms. The energy that leaves the system interacts with the area around it. Energy that stays in the system creates an increase in the internal energy of the system.

For example, if you have a pot of water at room temperature and add some heat to it, firstly, the temperature and energy of the water increases. Secondly, the system releases some energy and it interacts with the environment around it. Possibly heating the air around the water and making the air rise.

For a thermodynamic cycle, the net heat supplied to the system equals the net work done by the system.

The Second Law

explains that it is impossible to have a cyclic process that converts heat completely into work. This means that no reaction is 100% efficient. Some amount of energy in a reaction is always lost to heat. Similarly, a system cannot convert all of its energy to working energy.

It is also impossible to have a process that transfers heat from cool objects to warm objects without using work. A cold body can’t heat up a warm body. Heat naturally wants to flow from warmer to cooler areas. Heat wants to flow and spread out to areas with less heat. If heat is going to move from cooler to warmer areas, the system must put in some work for it to happen.

The Third Law

Entropy is the measure of the random activity in a system. By random, it means energy that can’t be used for any work. The Third Law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an object approaches to a constant as its temperature approaches to absolute zero.

Examples Of The Laws In Everyday Life

The laws of thermodynamics don’t exist in isolation. We can witness them in action every day. For example, on a hot day, someone might take an ice cube from the freezer to keep a drink cool. In doing so, they’ll witness the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

Ice needs to be maintained at a temperature below the freezing point of water to remain solid. When an ice cube is put into a glass of lemonade, after a while, the ice will melt but the temperature of the lemonade will cool. The total amount of heat in the thermodynamic system has remained the same, but it has gravitated towards equilibrium. The ice cube, which is now water and the lemonade are the same temperature. This system isn’t completely closed however. The lemonade will eventually warm up again, as heat from the environment is transferred to the glass and its contents.

Similarly, the human body also obeys the laws of thermodynamics. Consider the experience of being in a small, crowded room, surrounded by lots of other people. In all likelihood, you’ll start to feel very warm and will start sweating. This is the process your body uses to cool itself down. Heat from your body is transferred to your sweat. As your sweat absorbs more and more heat, it evaporates from your body, becoming more disordered and transferring heat to the air. This, in turn, heats up the air temperature of the room. This is an example of both the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics in action. No heat is lost. It is merely transferred and approaches equilibrium with maximum entropy.

When its comes to safety in any school science lab, there are many hazards, but this is particularly true when using chemicals.  Ensuring children are safe when using chemicals in science lessons is paramount but with the appropriate precautions in place, these hazards can be avoided.

 

Following these simple tips on using chemicals safely at school will help educate, inform and keep students safe.

1.  Safety Wear

Whenever and wherever you work with chemicals, safety attire should be top of the list before you begin any experiment. Safety goggles, gloves, and a lab coat should be the first pieces of equipment on that list.

When it comes to gloves, it is important to understand the different types of gloves and materials in order to provide the right protection when using certain chemicals.   For example, latex and nitrile gloves are commonly available but latex gloves are not resistant to acetone, a common chemical solvent found in nail polish remover.  Therefore, you should always check the chemicals you will be using for each experiment.

2.  Safety Equipment

Advanced science experiments sometimes require special safety equipment, such as a fume hood or cupboard.  In addition to safety goggles or glasses, extra safety levels such as a safety screen, which offers optimal clarity while ensuring an extra layer of safety should be used when demonstrating with certain chemicals.

3.  Chemical Know How & Safety Procedures

Knowledge is power and it is essential to ensure students within school science labs are fully aware of the hazards of the chemicals they are using.  One of first safety procedures should be to always read the label, but other advice such chemical disposal procedures are also a must, as some chemicals shouldn’t be poured down the sink.

Before starting any experiment, planning and ensuring the proper equipment is available and knowing how to use it correctly will reduce the risk of an accident happening.

4.  Safe Storage of Chemicals

When chemicals are not in use, it is vital that they are always stored safely and out of harms way.  Hazardous storage cabinets are designed to meet the requirements of COSHH regulations for safe storage of flammable liquids and chemicals. Complete with warning signs and coloured bright yellow, it is very clear that permission should be obtained before entering any such cabinet.

5.  Be Prepared

When using chemicals in schools it is everyone’s responsibility that proper safety wear and equipment is worn, there is knowledge of the chemicals being used, and lab procedures and techniques are followed to avoid any unnecessary accidents.

Chemical spill clean-up kits should always be kept to hand and within easy reach so any spillages can be quickly sorted.  Finally, first aid kits, fire blankets and eyewash stations should be in every school science lab.   Contact Edulab for all your science safety requirements and help make sure your students use chemicals safely at school.

Isaac Newton was one of the most important figures in the history of science. While we’ve written about him in the past, many of his laws of motion are still misunderstood. So we’ve put together this blog post to summarise each of his 3 laws of motion with the relevant equations and a real-life example:

First Law

Also known as the law of inertia; Newton’s first law of motion states that: “An object in motion will remain in motion and an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by a force”. An example of this law is throwing balls: A light beachball will require a lot less force to move than a heavy bowling ball.

The second and third laws follow-on from this and use this first law to establish a frame of reference.

Second Law

The second law of motion states that: “Net force is equal to mass times acceleration”. This can be explained mathematically using the equation:

F=ma

Where is the net force placed on the object, is the object’s mass and a, the acceleration.

An example of this force would be a hockey puck: When force is exerted on it whilst on a frictionless ice rink (or as close to frictionless as possible), nothing is cancelling out this force, so the puck accelerates forward until it comes into contact with a solid object, such as a goal, where the kinetic energy is transferred into the object, stopping the puck in it’s path. When the puck has stopped moving, this is known as equilibrium. Whilst in equilibrium, the puck could still be moving but its velocity won’t be changing.

Third Law

Newton’s third and probably most well-known law of motion states that: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Also known as the normal force, this law of motion is one of the easiest to observe but one of the hardest to understand intuitively.

As an example of this force in motion: Imagine a bowl with a sheet of aluminium foil sitting on top of it. If you were to place a grape on this foil it would exert force down onto the foil because gravity is pulling it downwards while the normal force exerts upwards by the same amount, stopping the foil from collapsing in on itself whilst keeping the grape in equilibrium. If you were to place a second grape on the foil, this would double the amount of force pushing downwards and also double the amount of normal force pushing upwards. Eventually, with enough grapes and, subsequently, downwards force added to the foil, it would collapse due to not being able to match the force from the weight placed on it.

 

Zombies. The word conjures up certain images; of the undead shambling around in horror films like Dawn of the Dead or, possibly more terrifyingly, running around in films like 28 Days Later. They’ve been a fixture of horror movies since the 1960s, although they first appeared considerably earlier, and are now also a common antagonist in video games from Left 4 Dead to The Last of Us.

Most terrifyingly of all, however… they may have some basis in scientific fact.

Picture the scene: you’re going about your business when you suddenly have a strange urge to climb. Unable to resist, you ascend to a particular high place, and anchor yourself securely to this vantage point. Your muscles stop responding, and you can’t let go. Then a mushroom grows out of the back of your head, finally releasing spores to infect others in the same way. You’re an unfortunate carpenter ant, and the deadly zombie fungus is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, or Cordyceps.

See Cordyceps in action in this clip from BBC’s Planet Earth.

This fungus – or rather, family of fungi, as there are many varieties of Cordyceps – has evolved with a specific parasitic behaviour that is undoubtedly disturbing and all too familiar to horror fans. It infects a carrier, and manipulates their behaviour with a mind-controlling chemical cocktail, forcing them against their will to take up a position which will aid the spread of its spores, then disabling them there, killing them and growing out of the carrier’s body. In the case of the carpenter ants, this is usually on the underside of a leaf, where they clamp their mandibles into the main vein in a death grip.

Different varieties of Cordyceps target different insects, using different chemicals to target the behaviour of its preferred carrier. This behaviour is very specialised; research has shown that one variety of Cordyceps creates a different chemical cocktail for different species of ants, tailoring its approach to its carrier.

The ants, in turn, are often familiar with Cordyceps, and if they recognise an infected ant they will carry it as far away from the colony as possible – a little heartless, if the ant in question happens to be a relative, but preferable to the infection and loss of the entire colony.

If you’re feeling a little unnerved by all this, science has some good news for you. Researchers found that Cordyceps was unable to control ants which it didn’t co-evolve with; it was unfamiliar with them and therefore couldn’t create the right chemical cocktail to manipulate their brains. This means that it is thankfully unlikely that we will ever encounter a form of Cordyceps which can turn us into fungus-carrying zombies.

Should you wish to prepare for this particular kind of zombie apocalypse (just to be on the safe side) by studying Cordyceps for yourself, you’ll need some high-quality scientific laboratory supplies – which we here at Edulab are more than able to help you with! Simply contact us on 01366 385777 today. As for the zombie-proof bunker, weapo

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The latest Marvel superhero film is a blockbuster of a different size; whilst fight scenes in The Avengers frequently cover entire cities, Ant-Man offers a show-down on a Thomas the Tank Engine model railway set. Yes, really.  But is there any real science behind these shrinking shenanigans?

Debuting in the comic book Tales to Astonish back in 1962, Ant-Man was in fact one of the original Avengers from the comics of the day; despite this, he’s not as well known as Iron Man or Captain America. His powers revolve around being able to shrink to the size of an ant, as well as being able to control and command armies of actual ants. So how does he do it?

The Incredible Shrinking Ant-Man

In the film, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) is able to shrink thanks to a mysterious substance invented by Dr Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) a brilliant scientist and inventor – and the original Ant-Man. Modestly named the Pym Particle, it’s said to reduce the space between molecules, enabling the user to shrink at will.

In reality, shrinking a human being to the size of an ant would present some significant problems; the way our bodies function just doesn’t scale down in a straightforward manner.

The first problem would be breathing; at full size, there’s plenty of oxygen in each lungful of air that we breathe. Shrink down, and the amount of oxygen available in each lungful decreases – it would be like breathing the air at the top of Mount Everest.

Secondly, a real-life Ant-Man would have some trouble seeing. We can see because light comes through the pupils of our eyes to focus on the retina. At ant-size, your pupils would be a lot closer to the wavelength of light itself, so the light would scatter on the edges of the iris and produce a diffracted and blurry effect. This is why the eyes of insects are so different to ours; they have compound eyes which are much better at allowing them to see movement at that scale.

And then there’s his voice. In the film, Ant-Man can be heard quite normally even when scaled down, but that wouldn’t be the case in real life. As you shrink the vocal cords, their vibration frequency goes up, so he’d be speaking at around 3,500 hertz instead of the normal 200 hertz – and that would be very high pitched and squeaky to full size ears.

However, these issues are somewhat addressed by the fact that the Ant-Man suit is required for successful shrinking – so perhaps it’s equipped with the technology to address those problems.

The Real Stars

The real stars of the Ant-Man movie are, of course, the ants themselves. They work with the titular hero to provide transportation, specialised attacks and much more. There are four species shown in the film; carpenter ants, bullet ants, fire ants, and crazy ants, and the film-makers have tried hard to make them look realistic and get the science at least in the right vicinity.

Carpenter ants are shown as the main method of transportation; this makes sense, as they are heavy lifters of the ant world. The wings, however, are problematic; they only have wings when they set out to establish a new colony, and whilst they have those wings they wouldn’t be carrying anything but a strong desire to spend time with a friendly ant of the opposite gender, if you catch our drift.

Bullet ants are used as a weapon, and they do indeed pack a serious sting. They’re level 4 on the Schmidt Pain Index (which is referenced in the film), making them one of the most painful experiences possible – a pain “so immediate and intense it shuts down all illusion of life as normal” is how the index’s creator describes it.

Fire ants are also used in the movie as a form of transport, building bridges, ladders and even rafts with their bodies – something that they really do in real life, too!

Finally, the crazy ants are mobilised for their ability to short out electrical circuits. Whilst this is something they can do in real life, it’s generally less dramatic, and more along the lines of chewing through vital connections.

One last point; the ants running around in the world would generally be females– so Antony, the one named ant in the movie, should really have been Antoinette.

Of course, whilst Tony Stark could build an Iron Man suit in a cave with a box of scraps, every scientific genius will agree that it’s a lot easier to make your breakthroughs in a properly equipped lab. At Edulab, we can provide you with everything you need, from laboratory glassware to precision lab equipment. For more information, contact us on 01366 385777 today.

Selecting your Centrifuge Tubes

Centrifugation is a widely used method for separating fluids as required for laboratory analyses.  In most cases, whether they are blood specimens or experimental preparations such as molecular biological samples or monoclonal antibodies, there is a huge cost attached to the specimen.  Selecting the best centrifuge for the job is a critical part of preserving your specimens and getting optimum results.  Here we take a look at various factors to help you make your decision…

Sterile or Non-Sterile?

Although centrifuge tubes are produced at high temperatures this is no guarantee of sterility.  Don’t assume your centrifuge tubes are sterile, ensure you check the specification carefully before use. Various methods are used for producing sterile tubes, and in all cases, it is good practice to keep the tubes in an aseptic environment once the pack has been broken.

Racks

Generally, sterile tubes are provided in styrene racks.  This makes it easy to keep them in a sterile area and use efficiently. Where sterility is not a requirement it is more cost effective to buy centrifuge tubes packed in a bulk of say 50 tubes per bag.

Relative Centrifugal Force

Manufacturers will provide a RCF rating for their tubes.  RCF is a more important rating than RPM as RCF takes the gravitational force into account whereas RPM only takes into account the spinning speed of the rotor.

Centrifuge Tube prices vary significantly according to specification.  It is important to match the specification with your requirement for best results and cost effectivity.  High volume users can benefit from significant savings over time by not using over specified tubes.

Fill Volumes and Sizes

Overfilling, as well as under filling, centrifuge tubes can result in the tubes bursting or collapsing during spinning.  It can also result in leakage.  Leaks during centrifugation can result in aerosols of contaminated fluids which of course potentially pose a health hazard.

Manufacturers will provide details on correct fill volumes.

It is also important to ensure that the size of the tube is compatible with your centrifuge rotor.  Manufacturers can provide adapters of centrifuge heads to accommodate different tube sizes.

Material Compatibility

Selection of the material of which the tube is made is very important. Some substances will attack the centrifuge tubes and manufacturers should provide guidance on the resistance properties of their products to help with this.  Polypropylene is widely used for centrifuge tube manufacture, being resistant to many substances and holding excellent durability properties. Polypropylene can be successfully autoclaved, is resistant to many organic solvents, and is ideal for high-speed applications.  If there is any doubt as to the compatibility, we strongly recommend a trial before centrifugation.

Other materials used for centrifuge manufacture include Polyethylene (PET), Polyallomer (PA) and Polycarbonate (PC.)

Boyle’s law is used to explain the inverse relationship between the pressure and volume of a container of gas held at a constant temperature. It was first discovered by Richard Towneley and Henry Power in the 17th century and was later confirmed and published by Robert Boyle a few years later.

Essentially, it states that when the pressure of a container filled with gas is increased, the overall volume of the container decreases (as demonstrated by this helpful visual animation).

The Equation

Boyle’s law can be mathematically stated as PV=k where P is the measurement of Pressure; V Volume and k a constant.

As long as the temperature and mass remain constant, the pressure and volume will also remain constant when multiplied together.

Real World Uses

Some of the most common uses for Boyle’s law include:

  • The human respiratory system – The expansion and contraction of the lungs serves as a good model;
  • Canned carbonated drinks – Notice that when you open the can, the gas released balances out the internal volume;
  • Spray cans – When shaken, the pressure inside of an aerosol can increase and when the top is pressed, this allows the pressurised gas escape (or ‘expand’ into a less pressurised environment, i.e. outside the can).
  • Syringes – When the end is blocked and the plunger is pushed, the pressure inside of the syringe increases. The reduction in volume can be easily observed with this simple Boyle’s law experiment.

Show Your Students How It Works

While a very basic experiment can be carried out by using a syringe where the student blocks the end and pulls/pushes the plunger to change the internal pressure; higher quality equipment will show the pressure/volume relationship much more clearly, making it easier for your students to learn.

We sell 3 different types; both standard Boyle’s law apparatus and simple apparatus. If you have any questions about either of l

One of the most widely recognised pieces of science equipment; the compound microscope dates back to around 1620AD, where European scientists used an objective lens with an eyepiece to view specimens in great detail. Previously, around the 5th century BC, ancient Greeks had written a few accounts on the optics of water-filled spheres and paved the way for many innovations in the technology that would later result in the microscopes we use today.

While the original inventor is unknown, Galileo Galilei is often credited as being the first due to his idea of using a telescope to view small objects. He went on to build his own version of the microscope after he saw one built by Cornelis Drebbel at an exhibition in Rome in 1624 and decided he could make a better one himself. After submitting his to the Accademia dei Lincei a year later, Giovanni Faber named it ‘microscope’.

The modern light microscope

Since then, the microscope has gone through many changes and improvements; most notably, the modern light microscope. In the 17th century, Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek created a single lens microscope with 300x magnification – an impressive feat for the day. To do this, he took 2 riveted metal plates and added a very small glass ball between them. He then went on to discover micro-organisms using this very instrument.

Variations

Today, there are many different types of microscopes available for used in scientific research. Some examples include:

  • Electron microscopes – These use electrons and electromagnets instead of light and glass. Developed in the early 1930s.
  • Fluorescence microscopes – Generally used to study cellular structures by stained with fluorescence. Developed in the mid-1950s
  • X-ray microscopes – As their name suggests, these microscopes use X-rays to image objects. Developed in the early 1970s.
  • Scanning probe microscopes – A highly advanced microscope used to study quantum tunnelling. Developed in the early 1980s

Availability

While in the past Microscopes were rare and expensive, today they can be found in most laboratories and can be easily bought online. For example, we sell various different monocular, binocular and trinocular microscopes and slide sets on our website, ranging from human cell to animal tissue and plant cells.

Dissection has been used for centuries to explore the anatomy of animals and plants. The amount we’ve learnt about biology from this practice is unparalleled and remains a practice in the modern world; from postmortems to classroom dissection, there’s no better way of learning what’s under the skin of an organism.

A brief history

The first known instances of dissection were carried out by the ancient Greeks around 350-400BC. While human dissection was considered taboo and banned under Roman law, many Greek physicians dissected and studied animal cadavers.

Around the same time in India, records show interest in the inner workings of the body; although it was unclear if they performed dissection on bodies, they marked the beginning of what became large medical advancements around 700-800AD where the practice flourished under Aryan rule.

Enquiries into the inner workings of the body were also made across other parts of the world; from physicians in the Islamic countries dissecting bodies, to the practice of sky burial in ancient Tibet, to Christian Europe from around the 13th century onwards. Today, while still controversial in many parts of the world, dissection is considered a standard practice in the fields of pathology and forensic medicine.

The practice in education today

In many classrooms across the world, dissection is a popular activity and serves as an introduction to the practice that brought about many medical advancements. While GCSE-level students normally dissect small animals such as a frog or rat, or parts of larger animals such as a pig’s heart, cow’s liver or sheep’s lung, dissection of human cadavers is typically carried out in higher education medical studies.

The advantages of having students carry out dissection include:

  • Gaining of practical skills;
  • Greater appreciation of the inner workings of the body, life and death;
  • First-hand understanding of anatomical variability;
  • Improved teamwork skills.

Equipment

To get started with dissection there are certain pieces of equipment you will need. These generally include:

Here at Edulab, we sell all of this equipment in a handy either individually or as part of a set. They are all available to view here: www.edulab.com/cat/biology-1/dissection-1.

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